Be Careful Out There

I was recently contacted by a songwriter who had himself contacted an online Nashville-based company after he saw an ad for them on a music website.  When I checked it out, I saw that this company’s website was pretty straight-forward:  “We find songs for…” and then it proceeded to list a whole bunch of big name country artists.  So they were either a song publisher or song plugging company.  Below the long list of artists, there were three buttons.  The first button was supposed to be a FAQ, but the questions represented weren’t anything like “who we are and what we do”.  No, instead they included questions like “Do my words need to be perfect when I send them to you?” ,  “How long should my song be?” and “Do I need to copyright my songs before I send them to you?”.  All of their answers to these questions raised red flags for me.

The first question was “Do my words need to be perfect when I send them to you?”…any legitimate song publisher or songplugger WANTS A “PERFECT” SONG to pitch.  They don’t want to listen through a bunch of mediocre songs…which is why it is so hard to get that publishing deal in the first place.  Most song publishers listen to about the first :10 or :15 seconds of a song before they decide to turn it off or not.  But what did this company’s website say?  “No.  All songs start with a good idea and that’s all we need.”  Right away, this should tell you that they are taking anything that gets sent their way.  Why?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Second question:  “How long should my song be?”  Now, that’s a rather odd question to put in a FAQ, but nevertheless, they have an answer for that one too!  Their answer is:  “A commercial song…usually has about 24 lines, but may vary.”  This reminds me of an old scam artist/self-proclaimed “hit” writer that I came across a number of years ago on the web.  He actually had it calculated down to the number of syllables in a line!  If you have this many syllables, your song could be a hit!  But all you have to do is check out a bunch of hit songs from anywhere, anytime, to see that numbers of lines and syllables is NOT the most important aspect of being a “hit”, nor is a certain number of them a prerequisite.  Another red flag.

Third question:  “Do I need to copyright my songs before I send them to you?”  Their answer?  No.  That was the biggest red flag for me.  Now, practically speaking, a lot of pro writers do not copyright their songs until they get picked up by an artist.  But they know who they’re dealing with, and they already have a name for themselves.  They are not you, the first time songwriter trying to get your songs to a publisher.  Technically, a copyright ‘exists’ when you finish writing a song.  You always put the copyright symbol on anything you send out.  And if you are really hot on that song, you register a legal copyright first before sending it anywhere.  No question.

Okay, let’s get back to that Nashville company website.  Remember I told you that I’d explain why they would take anything that is sent to them?  Well, this will tell you. The next button says “Read what songwriters are saying about [us].”  I read all of the quotes and every one of them was about the recording of the songwriter’s song.  For example:   “Thank you for making a great recording of my song. You are special people who make a difference.”  None of the quotes had anything to do with getting a song placed, pitching it to artists or getting on the radio, or anything else.  All they want is for you to pay them money to record your song.

When the songwriter who contacted me sent me a copy of the contract, my suspicions were confirmed.  This was all about paying money to get a song recorded.  And not only that, but you get a bonus of $30,000 when you get a number 1 hit!  Wow, so now, let me see…somehow getting a recording of your song done by them, which you pay them for, could be a number 1 hit??  How might that happen?   That’s the other ‘service’ they provide…they’ll send your song to a bunch of radio stations on a compilation CD!  That’s how it will become a hit.  It’s just that you have to pay for being on the compilation CD too.  Oh well, chump change compared to that $30,000 you’re going to make, right?  They’re going to send it out to hundreds of radio stations!  But here’s the twist:  most radio stations pay absolutely no attention to these compilation CDs.  The only CDs they will listen to come from legitimate and big name record labels.  I know…I worked at a radio station.  The CD your song is on gets filed under “G” for garbage.

The ‘contract’ that was sent to this songwriter was, in fact, a glorified invoice.  Please pay us $500+ dollars.  Oh, and your song could be a hit.

Don’t feel stupid if this has happened to you or if it does in the future.  It has happened to many, many songwriters over the years.  Heck, I still get an annual post card from a “big time” producer, gushing about my song (and he always gets the title wrong) and how he can make it a big hit for me down in Nashville.  I’ve received a post card every year for about ten years, and that’s not exaggerating.   I probably sent the song out there to a few places years ago and that’s how he got my address.  I laugh, but then I wonder how many others he does this to every year, and how many of them fall for it just because they really believe in their songs and want it to be true.

These guys are nothing but scam artists pulling at your heartstrings.

If you have any questions about any publishers or song pluggers, send them to me.  I am not a lawyer so if you get a big, long contract with a bunch of legalize in it, I won’t be able to decipher it much more than you will.  However, if it’s anything like the contract this songwriter sent me to look at, I can tell you right away if it’s a scam or not!

In the meantime, be careful out there.


PS…I occasionally receive emails from so-called song pluggers or people who want to collaborate and who claim they have written hits for certain artists, etc.   I usually research them first to see if they are legitimate by simply searching for their names in the ASCAP and BMI databases (or check with the PRO from whatever country they reside in).  If I can’t find their names registered anywhere, I’ll simply reply to their email and ask them what name they register their songs under.  If they are legitimate, they’ll tell you, if they don’t answer back, you’ve learned that either they are scammers or that they are not willing to share their info, which makes them highly suspicious.  As I always say, arm yourself with knowledge! ~ IJ

How Do Songs Get On The Radio?

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I worked in a small radio station here in Victoria back in the 90’s.  The format was “oldies”, which, at the time, meant songs from the 50’s to the 70’s.  These days 80’s and even some 90’s songs are considered oldies.  Which makes me feel — REALLY oldie :-).

Members of my family have been in radio on the lower mainland in the Vancouver area for decades, in everything from talk to news to adult contemporary and pop formats.  As happens often enough these days, a radio station can change its colours many times over the years.  In a city where there is stiff competition, having a hot, new format with a popular playlist is what everyone is after.

Here in Canada, disc jockeys or “jocks” are obligated to provide a certain percentage of Canadian content.  This regulation was created years ago when our radio waves were pretty much overwhelmed with American music.  Not that this was a bad thing, but in a country with one tenth of the population of our neighbours, the opportunity for Canadian artists and bands to get radio airplay was pretty slim, so the regulation helped in the beginning.  Many radio jocks now argue that the rule is antiquated and that Canadian bands and artists are now big enough and good enough to fight for those positions without the rule.

For commercial stations these days, especially those owned by big conglomerates like Clear Channel, they don’t have much say in what goes on their playlists.  Most, if not all, of the songs you hear are from the “big five” record labels from well-established or hot new artists the labels are pushing.  And let’s face it, a lot of kids especially want to hear the artists they know and love.  But what many don’t realize is how “unlocal” their radio stations really are.   Sometimes there isn’t even a “live” jock, it’s all pre-recorded by one person somewhere and sent to all of the other stations that the company owns.  So trying to get your band or your song on a local radio station is harder than it ever was.

However, many local stations will have a show devoted to local bands and artists.  And college or university stations, which are not commercial, are free to play pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want.  In fact, many bands and artists these days often “break” on a college station and build on their audience that way.

As an artist these days you have a lot more access to information about your local commercial and college stations, and that’s where you need to begin.  Most of them have websites, and many of those list their shows, artists and other information about them that can come in handy.  If you research carefully, you will find the name of the programming director.  These are the people who decide what plays and what doesn’t.  As I said earlier, they may be restricted somewhat these days by people on high regarding the music they play, but if there is some kind of show featuring local artists, that’s your in.

Here are some tips you might consider:

  • Research is very important;  the most obvious point is to make sure their format fits your songs.  Don’t send your rock songs into a country station!
  • Write a good cover letter, not too long, introducing yourself and your music and package it nicely with your CD or demo
  • Be professional but you can be creative too in the package you send them, in order to get their attention
  • If you must, do a follow up phone call, but DON’T HARASS the program director or the station!  That’s a sure way to get black-listed
  • Do not give up, sometimes it’s all about patience and having your name heard a few times by the people who count

As I mentioned in the beginning, I worked at an oldies station back in the 90’s, but it never ceased to amaze me how many CDs ended up in the garbage because whoever was sending it had not paid any attention to the fact that we played Elvis, not Enya.  Even the big record labels sent CDs of recent releases!  Not very efficient or practical on their part…my guess is that they just sent these out to absolutely every station with no thought to whether or not the station would actually play it.

I’ve heard my songs on the radio a few times.  It’s a pretty exciting thing, and with a little patience and persistence I know you will experience the same thrill one day 🙂

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Publishing – A Brief Beginner’s Guide

© I.Woloshen

First of all, I want to emphasize the fact that my experience with publishing has to do with having my music on television series, which is different in some ways from having a song contracted to a publisher. Most of what I’ve learned has been through connections with other published writers or publishers themselves. But I do occasionally get emails asking what publishing deals are, or how to “sell” their songs (you don’t outright sell your songs, but more on that later)…and of course most people are curious as to how they can get a deal! Let’s start at the very beginning and discuss what exactly it is. Warning: Music biz lingo ahead! I’ll try to explain the terms that may be unfamiliar to you.

First of all, let’s discuss what a publisher does. A publishers’ main job is to create a catalogue (collection) of songs that they can pitch (promote) to artists or producers, anyone who might potentially get a song recorded or on a project. Larger publishers are often also connected with, or even a branch of, a record label. Kind of an “all in one” package. In this case, if a performing songwriter is signed to a label, her/his songs are usually published through that record label’s publishing branch.

But many publishers are strictly in the business of creating their catalogue in the hopes of getting one or more of their songs on a hit record. Why? Because part of the money that is made from a successful recording goes to the publisher. This is how it works:

When a song gets on the radio it earns royalties. You’ve probably heard the word “royalties” before. Simply speaking, the song being “exposed” to the public in some way, either on radio or television, in a restaurant…wherever you hear music publicly, earns money. Any company or organization that uses music in some way as part of their business, has to pay a lump sum fee to a “performing rights organization” such as SOCAN, ASCAP, or BMI…every country has its own performing rights organization (PRO). This PRO collects information on when a song was played and how much, and distributes this money to its members (publishers, songwriters, etc.). The more exposure a song gets, the more money the publisher (and songwriter) makes. Bingo.

For the songwriter, the advantage to having a song with a publisher is that the publisher will hopefully have some good music business connections and will work hard to get the song on an artists’ recording. They are interested in finding great songs! This is where you come in because you’ve got the great songs! But how do you find the publishers? How do they know about you?

One book I recommend you get yourself is called Songwriters’ Market. Check your local bookstore, or buy it online from any number of online sites, including mine. Not only does it go into detail as to what a songwriter can do to get her/his song heard by publishers, but it actually lists names and addresses of publishers to send your songs to! There are articles written by people in the business and it gives you some standards to adhere to as far as looking and sounding professional (very important!) This book is a great place to start gathering information on the business side of songwriting.

How do you get a deal with a publisher? Well, first of all, let’s discuss what a publishing deal is. There are basically two types of deals: a single song deal and a writer’s deal. The single song deal is easier to get, and simply involves signing only one of your songs with a publisher. The writer’s deal is extremely difficult to get…this involves essentially working for a publisher where the rights to all of the songs you write during this tenure are assigned to them. You do get paid, but only as an advance on potential future royalties. In other words, your songs have to eventually make money or they’ll dump you! These days a writer’s deal is even MORE difficult to get. Many labels and publishers are doing the ol’ “downsizing” and employing fewer writers.

So let’s assume that you’re only looking for a single song contract. You make your list of publishers to send your demo tape to, you ship them off and you wait. You get a call from a publisher (hey, if that happens the FIRST time you send your song out, consider yourself either LUCKY or an incredible, undiscovered writer!!). The publisher says he’s interested in the song and thinks he can pitch it to an artist who’s in the studio right now and looking for more songs to consider recording. What happens next? The publisher sends you a contract, you are hopefully smart enough to take it to an entertainment lawyer (!!), you decide it’s a good deal, you sign the contract, and voila! You have a publishing deal. Does this mean that the money starts rolling in? NO! The contract only gives the publisher the right to exploit the song for a period of time. “Exploit” seems like a dirty word, but it is the term used for trying to get a song heard. If during that period of time nothing comes of it, the contract runs out and the deal is off. That’s it.

If, however, the publisher manages to get someone interested in your song…what happens next? Does this mean the money starts rolling in now? NO! The producer/artist/record label has simply put the song on “hold”. A hold means that the publisher promises not to pitch the song anywhere else until the artist/producer, or whoever, decides if they want to use it. It sits in limbo until the decision is made one way or the other. If they decide to record it, you’re in business! Does this mean the money starts rolling in? Not yet. Once the song is on a CD and then manufactured, the first money you’ll see is a part of the mechanical royalties. Usually there is a contract between the writer/publisher and record label or artist for these royalties. The last I heard, mechanical royalties are just a little over 7.5 cents per CD. If they manufacture 10,000 CD’s, you’ll get a part of $750.00. In some cases, the publisher splits that with you. Doesn’t sound like much, does it?

What about radio airplay? Since most royalties come from that, you’d be really interested in your song getting on the radio, wouldn’t you? But that only happens if your song is chosen as a “single”. The record label decides which songs would be good as singles, songs that are chosen to represent the CD. If your song is not chosen as a single, you won’t see much in the way of royalties, certainly not to begin with. OH, it’s a long and complicated process, isn’t it? 🙂

Next, if the song DOES get some airplay, eventually you might see some royalties. Might? Well, you have to get a LOT of airplay for your song to be noticed. In Canada, where I live, radio stations send in a sample log to SOCAN (the PRO) once a month. What’s a log? It’s a stack of papers that show the songs and commercials and everything that was broadcast on that station for a day. The log that they send in has to have your song on it, in other words, it had to be played on that radio station that day for it to even show up as having had airplay. If your song played the day BEFORE, well, you’re outta luck! Doesn’t sound very promising, does it? Sometimes it takes months for a song to catch onto the listeners out there…sometimes a radio station will give up on it long before that. Not only that, but politics are involved. Record labels work hard at convincing radio stations to play their artists latest recording, but the programming managers at the station have to like it. Arrgghhh….! Let’s get back to the publishing deal…

All single-song contracts should have what is called a “reversion clause” written into it. Be aware of this! A reversion clause means that after a period of time (could be 6 months, could be two years) if the publisher is unsuccessful in exploiting your song, you get the publishing rights to the song back. Then you start all over. There are many songwriters out there with single song contracts, getting the song on a recording is much more difficult. A lot of publishers these days are working on getting songs placed in movies…this is another way for the song to earn money. Although movie theatres do not pay royalties like radio or television stations do, the song would be recorded on the soundtrack as part of the movie promotion. Just about every movie has a soundtrack these days! Getting your song on a television show is another way that you can earn royalties. I wrote music for several television series’…everytime that music plays, I get royalties! The beauty of my situation is that I am my own publisher, so the most I end up doing is paying a part of the publisher’s portion of the royalties to the producers of the series. This is a slightly different situation than the publishing deal you’re likely in search of. But as you can see, there are all kinds of possibilities out there.

Some things to be aware of:

If a so-called “publisher” asks you for money to record your song, or for any other reason…RUN THE OTHER WAY. This is NOT what a legitimate publisher will do. You should NEVER pay money to a publisher for anything! If they want to re-demo the song, they will do it themselves.

If a publisher wants to “buy” the rights to your song…again, RUN THE OTHER WAY. A legitimate publisher knows that you can’t buy people’s rights from them. It is not done. Well, maybe in some countries, but don’t be fooled!

Most publishers listed in Songwriters Market are legitimate…occasionally you’ll come across one that isn’t. How do you know? When they start making all kinds of promises to you. The old saying “If it sounds too good…” you know the rest. For the most part, it is not in a publishers’ best interest to start a bad reputation! They want to develop a good relationship with you, one that will benefit everyone.

Most publishers will want ALL of the publishing rights to your song. You may have heard of situations where songwriters own some of their own publishing. They are usually well-established songwriters who have a little more clout and can negotiate these kinds of deals. In the beginning, expect to compromise to some extent. Do you want a deal, or would you rather not? This is often what it comes down to. Later on, when you’re a famous writer 🙂 you can get yourself a better deal!

Is a publishing deal all it’s cut out to be? That’s up to you. In my case, I’m a performing songwriter and not as anxious to get published because I perform them myself. That doesn’t mean I won’t in future, but for now, it’s not in the cards. If you are not a performing songwriter, the only way you’re going to get your songs heard is by somebody else performing them. You may be able to find a group or an artist on your own! That’s the sign of a savy songwriter! But if you’ve decided you’d prefer a publishing contract, and after this article STILL think you want to pursue it, here are a couple of other resources you might check out:

For a more thorough description of royalties and how to get ’em, read Nancy Reese’s article for the Muse’s Muse…Publishing 101.

Robert Carter has also written an article for the Muse’s Muse explaining the sources of Publishing Income.

In fact, for a whole bunch of questions about publishing and copyright, why not take a cruise through Nancy Reese’s many Q&A articles for the Muse’s Muse…you might find your answer right here!

Hopefully, this information will give you a little insight into the mysterious world of publishing…Good Luck!

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